Demystifying Global Education Rankings

In October, BASIS Independent McLean parents and faculty packed our newly renovated auditorium for a conversation with Peng Yu, distinguished educator at one of the top high schools in Shanghai, China, and OECD Senior Policy Analyst Tue Halgreen. The presentation was entitled “Demystifying the Global Education Rankings” – aka – “why OECD/PISA matters.”

OECD/PISA event at BASIS Independent McLean.
The OECD/PISA event at BASIS Independent McLean. From left, Shanghai professor Peng Yu; his former student and current NYU student Zhang Yu; event moderator Mark Reford of BASIS Educational Ventures; and OECD Senior Policy Analyst Tue Halgfen.
You may be thoughtfully stroking your chin and wondering what OECD/PISA is – or, perhaps you’ve just read this piece on Vectors (or elsewhere) by Mark Reford of BASIS Educational Ventures. Even if you haven’t had a chance to read the piece, you’ve probably come across OECD/PISA in the news without realizing.

Every three years, when the results of the Programme for International Student Assessment exam (PISA) are released, education and business leaders (and microphoned-up politicians) get all riled because the United States runs somewhere in the middle of the pack, compared to all other industrialized nations.

Simply speaking, the PISA is a test for which students cannot study. It measures a 15-year-old’s ability to apply the skills and knowledge he’s learned in reading, math, and science to real life situations. Our leaders rightly get upset with our results because these critical thinking and problem solving results are borne of the very skills that are needed for our nation to thrive in a 21st century knowledge economy.

Before the first PISA exam was administered in 2000, many – if not most – industrialized nations believed that their education system was the best in the world. And then, the first wave of action after the 2000 PISA results were released was self-reflective in nature. Many countries had to adjust their whole understanding of where they stood in relation to other nations. In the next wave, countries smartly started to look at what other more successful schools were doing.

This is precisely what BASIS.ed co-founders Michael and Olga Block did when they founded the network, with its first school in Tucson, Arizona. The Blocks set their sights on that first schoolhouse becoming the best school in the world. (Indeed, the letters “I” and “S” in the all-capitalized BASIS portion of BASIS.ed stands for “international standards”.) The first BASIS.ed school was a success. Five years later, the second one (in Scottsdale, Arizona) was quickly a successful school, too. And in order for BASIS.ed to begin opening more schools at the dawn of the current decade, the Blocks traveled far and wide, looking closely at what worked – looking closely at ‘international standards’. They invariably took what worked around the world back home to their schools.

So what do the highest performing nations have in common? Simply put, in those countries, education is highly valued. In societies where the life of the mind is valued over all else, the best and the brightest become teachers, and students want to come to school and work hard. There is a fundamental belief that all students can learn.

OECD's Tue Halgreen doing interview
OECD’s Tue Halgreen doing a media interview at BASIS Independent McLean.
BASIS.ed schools are no different – and in fact, that’s our schools’ calling card. We focus only on what really matters: your child’s education. If it doesn’t contribute to your child learning, we don’t do it. That’s why we dedicate most of our resources to attracting the best, most knowledgeable teachers. Our teachers spend their entire adult lives learning their subject matter; their passion for it is an existential and actual truth! It is this passion for what they know that lights the fire for learning in every child, that inspires students to dream about making a difference, to see the connection between what they learn in school and what they can do to make the world a better place.

The reason our schools take the OECD Test for Schools (based on PISA) is so that we know that we are delivering on our promise to you. If the BASIS.ed network were a country, we would be the highest performing nation in the world. That means our students, your children, are better prepared and more able than any other students in the world to realize what they were born to do.

Mary Riner
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